MTG March of the Machine: Aftermath available now!
   Sign In
Create Account

An Ode to Anarchy: The Definitive Guide to Chaotic Commanders


When it comes to deck-building, consistency is key. Boil Magic: The Gathering rules down to their most primordial element, and you'll find it's all about reducing variance. Card advantage increases the likelihood of having an answer when you need it. Solid mana bases facilitate hitting the optimal number of lands of the appropriate color(s). Most decks bring in multiple copies of powerful cards, upping the odds of seeing them each game. This obviously doesn't hold true in Commander, the singleton nature of which makes variance more potent. Still, even casual Commander decks are built in such a way to reduce variance through the principles described above. Ramp and card draw are foundational pillars, with Cultivate and Rhystic Study remaining two of the most popular Commander cards many years after their first printing. And while they couldn't look any more different on the surface, both serve the same role: promote consistency. Regardless of format, variance is bane of all Magic players.

That is, save for one.

For these twisted souls, unpredictability is something to be celebrated. Caution isn't just thrown to the wind, it's pitched at full speed with a crooked smile. These players embrace the variance. Amplify it when able. They are perfectly comfortable with the whims of fate swinging in either direction, be they helpful or hurtful. The hilarious spectacle of a Scrambleverse is simply too alluring.

Scrambleverse by Dan Scott

Some players craft elaborate combo engines. Others play battlefield tactician. But for those who embrace chaos, power lies in unpredictability. When anything could happen, how could an opponent prepare for it? Fate alone decides the outcome of dice rolls or coin flips. Ruhan of the Fomori will attack someone, he just doesn't know who yet. For some players, such variance sounds ridiculous, an invitation to drawbacks and backfires. The chaos player doesn't care. They're far more interested in the wacky journey than the simple prospect of victory. They're the wildcard. Chaos is their game. But for a concept that's mercurial by its very nature, where does one even begin to explore it?

Ironically, in a place that couldn't be any more diametrically opposed. Webster's Dictionary defines 'Chaos' as the following:

  1. "A state of utter confusion."
  2. "A state of things in which chance is supreme."
  3. "Chasm, abyss (Obsolete)."

It's from these sections that we'll organize our calamitous menu. We'll explore how each strategy seeks to tear reality asunder, and what Legendary creatures best fit the criteria.

Strap in, folks. It's about to get weird.

Definition 1, Confusion in the Ranks

Ruhan of the Fomori by Raymond Swanland

Our first band of berserkers embrace confusion and the ensuing entertainment. To these Legendary creatures, random-chance is more than tolerable. It's damn fun! Why bother toiling over politics when entropy decides who gets attacked each turn? The universe will decide what spells flip off the top of our deck! This first flavor of chaotic-commander warps game mechanics into rule-bending pretzels.

Seeing as Chaos thrives in Red portion of the color pie, and how the fiery color is known for its love of combat, it's only fitting to kick things off in the attack zone. Ruhan of the Fomori is perhaps the most straight-forward of these, rushing headlong into battle each turn, but never sure against whom. Fellow chaotic attackers include Zurzoth, Chaos Rider, Narset, Enlightened Master, and Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire, each of whom triggers an unpredictable consequence via aggression. If you'd prefer to pass your attackers around the table, generals like Karona, False God, Tahngarth, First Mate, Kharn the Betrayer, and Xantcha, Sleeper Agent will happily jump across the battlefield to attack on turns outside of your own. Talk about unpredictable.

Zurzoth, Chaos Rider
Vaevictis Asmadi, the Dire
Karona, False God

If you're the nonviolent type, plenty of other chaotic commanders do their best work outside of combat. Arjun, the Shifting Flame and Neera, Wild Mage turn your spells into brand new hands or different spells, entirely. Or if you really want to talk about unpredictable card advantage, look no further than the Cascade. Free spells have historically spelled trouble in Magic's past. Cascade ensures you'll be getting at least one per instance. Make that potentially repeatable via Commanders like Abaddon the Despoiler, Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder, Maelstrom Wanderer, Averna, the Chaos Bloom, or even The First Sliver, and fireworks are sure to ensue.

Neera, Wild Mage
Yidris, Maelstrom Wielder
Averna, the Chaos Bloom

To headline this definition of chaos, I'm jumping back to Ruhan of the Fomori. One of the original chaotic-Commanders, Ruhan's 7/7 stats were considered absurd at the time of his printing in the first Commander preconstructed decks. Delve into Ruhan's flavor, and you find quite the underdog story. Born blind into a clan of nomadic warrior-giants, Ruhan was never expected to amount to much in life. The nuances of Fomori swordplay relied on sharp eyesight. But Ruhan wasn't about to let this setback spoil his legacy. Selecting a massive warclub as his weapon, Ruhan became renowned for his utter savagery on the battlefield. Be you friend or foe, you'd best get out of his way, as this oncoming wrecking ball cared little of allegiances or chivalry. Ruhan's only loyalty was to his own personal code, for it had transformed him into something greater than anyone could've ever foreseen. Take that lore and translate it into cardboard form, and you find a Commander unconcerned with specifics. He's gonna hit someone, that's for sure. You just won't know who until his mace is already lodged in their skull.

Chaotic Ruhan | Commander | Matthew Lotti

Card Display

Ruhan of the Fomori needs only three hits to spell doom for an opponent. Granted, getting those three hits consistently is an issue. One we'll correct via taking this giant in a Voltron-direction, where we'll suit him up with buffs until he's a battle-cruiser who'll only need one hit to take out a player. Ruhan has mighty starting stats for his cost, but he'll need backup protection, evasion, and amplification to turn that 7 into an instant 21. Luckily for us, Jeskai colors offer up plenty of each.

Fiery Emancipation
Duelist's Heritage
Raiyuu, Storm's Edge

Power-doubling effects like Unleash Fury, Two-Handed Axe, and Calamity Bearer pair wonderfully with Double Strike-outlets like Duelist's Heritage, Embercleave, and Arashin Foremost, resulting in a quadruple damage per swing. Or you could simply drop a Fiery Emancipation or Jeska, Thrice Reborn to make Ruhan an immediately-lethal threat. One that could potentially cut down multiple players in a single turn if you start doubling-up on combats via Raiyuu, Storm's Edge, Combat Celebrant, and Response // Resurgence.

As you can see, it doesn't take too much to make Ruhan a one-punch wonder. The trick is keeping him alive long enough to hit everyone, as we can't pick who to attack at a given time, and to slip him past whatever defenses may come up. Voltron commanders are frequently outfitted defensive apparel (Swiftfoot Boots, Robe of Stars, Champion's Helm) to keep safe from removal, but we also include Instant-speed (Sejiri Shelter // Sejiri Glacier, Slip Out the Back, Shelter) and creature-based (Koll, the Forgemaster, Selfless Samurai) backups for added insurance. The Protection offered up by Shelter and co. also provides key evasion to slip Ruhan past blockers, but there's plenty of other sneaky outlets to call upon like Distortion Strike, Unquestioned Authority, and Slip Through Space.

Realm-Cloaked Giant
Single Combat
Divine Reckoning

That said, keeping the battlefield clear of blockers is its own form of evasion. Though we run a few supporting-players, Ruhan of the Fomori is our primary creature, so our Wrath effects are heavily tilted in our favor (Realm-Cloaked Giant, Single Combat, Slash the Ranks, Divine Reckoning, Promise of Loyalty, Cyclone Summoner). Once the board is open and Ruhan sufficiently suited up with our armory (Obsidian Battle-Axe, The Reaver Cleaver, etc.) and auras (Steel of the Godhead, Mantle of the Ancients, etc.), we can further ensure opponents are vanquished in timely fashion by copying our Commander via cards like Helm of the Host and Irenicus's Vile Duplication, which ignore the Legendary rule.

Ruhan of the Fomori is a rampageous good time, but he's only the first of our chaotic trio.

Definition 2, Chance Encounters

Feeling lucky, punk?

Our next form of chaos centers on the force of chance. In our case, via literal fun and games. Enter coin flips and dice rolls. We can't predict how results will fall, but we'll benefit from each uncontrolled outcome all the same. And perhaps press our luck a bit along the way.

Krark, the Thumbless
Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom
Okaun, Eye of Chaos

Staring out with the 50/50 outcome of a coin-toss, and duo Zndrsplt, Eye of Wisdom and Okaun, Eye of Chaos are probably most well-known, though Krark the Thumbless and Yusri, Fortune's Flame are also solid options. Ironically, for a mechanic that seems so suited to the Izzet (Cerebral Vortex, Ral Zarek, the actually Izzet Guild doesn't have a single Legendary creature that cares about coin flips. Very odd, huh?

Farideh, Devil's Chosen
Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients
Monoxa, Midway Manager

If we're really looking to up the chaos-factor, why stop at 50/50 odds? Ratchet things up to 1-in-8, 10, or 20 to really make things helter-skelter. Dice-roll commanders are a more recent addition to the Magic world, at least outside of Un-Sets. Adventures in the Forgotten Realms and Commander Legends Battle for Baldur's Gate brought us Farideh, Devil's Chosen, Vrondiss, Rage of Ancients, and Wyll, Blade of Frontiers. Much like Ruhan, Wyll, Blade of Frontiers makes for an interesting Voltron-Commander with a chaotic wrinkle to build around. He can attack whomever he likes, but starts off with small stats. Wyll's Background ability rectifies that issue, as Raised by Giants allows us to accumulate +1/+1 counters off of dice rolls on top of a late-Game 10 power boost. If we want to connect this enhanced strength to the lore, know that Wyll, Blade of Frontiers has made a literal deal with a devil in exchange for power and fame. Giant-level strength and a pact with the underworld? Sounds pretty chaotic to me.

Chaotic Wyll | Commander | Matthew Lotti

Card Display

Wyll, Blade of Frontiers seeks to come down early and immediately start growing from all the dice we'll be throwing. High rolls off of Neverwinter Hydra, Delina, Wild Mage, and Centaur of Attention are optimal, but Wyll will be gaining +1/+1 counters regardless of outcome. We'll still be going for perfect 20's, but it's nice to know that no matter what's rolled, Wyll benefits as a bonus factor. That said, cards like Barbarian Class increase the odds for the better. Growth should be quick, as our deck is built with the potential tools to roll one or more dice each turn. Speaking of which, heavy-hitters like Ancient Copper Dragon and Ancient Bronze Dragon are more than capable of finishing off opposing players as a backup plan to Wyll.

Neverwinter Hydra
Delina, Wild Mage
Ancient Bronze Dragon

Because we're using Wyll, Blade of Frontiers as another Voltron-esque Commander, we'll want to increase his stats as much as possible before dropping Raised by Giants to go in for the kill. As with Ruhan, we've a few power-doubling effects and stat boosts (Choose Your Weapon, Strength-Testing Hammer), Double Strike (Embercleave, Critical Hit), and other forms of combat-enhancement (Berserker's Frenzy, Kediss, Emberclaw Familiar). Backing up this aggression are defensive tools (Lightning Greaves, Swiftfoot Boots) and tricks (Tyvar's Stand, Guardian Augmenter, Heroic Intervention) to keep our general alive and growing.

Evolution Sage
Sword of Hours
Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider

Our deck's focus on growing its Commander also synergizes well with a +1/+1 counter theme. Vorinclex, Monstrous Raider, Sword of Hours, Fractal Harness, and Evolution Sage all work to keep the engines running. Card advantage comes in the form of Chaos Channeler, Neyith of the Wild Hunt, Priority Boarding, Bag of Tricks, and The Deck of Many Things. You may also wonder at the inclusion of Portal to Phyrexia, but there's a method to the madness. Aside from ample ramp to ease the mana-mana price tag, our deck also packs a Vexing Puzzlebox to go digging for the Phyrexian haymaker artifact should it accrue enough counters.

Wyll, Blade of Frontiers + Raised by Giants covers yet another form of chaos. But one yet remains, and it's the darkest of the trio.

Definition 3, The Abyss

Rakdos the Defiler by Zoltan Boros and Gabor Szikszai

Up until now, you could excuse all this disorder for a bit of fun. Ruhan and company just like to mix things up and keep players guessing. Wyll and friends are all about the games. Sure, this rowdy lot is unpredictable, but their arrival oughta make for an interesting evening. Alas, they're not the only forms of chaos.

The very word Chaos, as we know it in the English language, hails from the Greek word for Abyss. Specifically, the Abyss as it relates to Tartarus, the underworld. Where dark souls and darker creatures dwell. And it's within these dark recesses that our journey finds its frightful conclusion, for this form of chaos seeks nothing more than to burn the Commander table to the ground. Death and destruction flavor this form of mayhem. And there are many twisted offerings to choose from.

Thantis, the Warweaver
Blim, Comedic Genius

Malfegor, Orcus, Prince of Undeath, and Be'lakor, the Dark Master share more than demonic origins. Each brings rampant bloodshed upon arrival, ensuring few other creatures survive the onslaught. Other murderous Legendary creatures are more subtle, seeking to pit enemies against each other and gleefully watch the carnage. The Goad mechanic and its ruthless advocates are prime examples. Karazikar, the Eye Tyrant, Marisi, Breaker of the Coil, Kardur, Doomscourge, Baeloth Barrityl, Entertainer and Firkraag, Cunning Instigator all bring out the worst in opposing creatures. Thantis the Warweaver, Basandra, Battle Seraph, and Fumiko, the Lowblood perform similar feats, only at a larger scale. There are others who revel in pointless calamity (Blim, Comedic Genuis), savage bedlam (Etali, Primal Storm), or even pure profit (Starke of Rath).

But most well-known of all is the sarcastic sadist so vain he named a guild after himself. Few others take such pleasure in watching the world burn as Rakdos the Defiler, original parun of Ravnica and one hell of an entertainer.

We've already covered Rakdos, the Showstopper in a previous article, so let's turn our attention to the original, far more dangerous incarnation: Rakdos the Defiler.

Chaotic Rakdos | Commander | Matthew Lotti

Card Display

Rakdos the Defiler has the potential to annihilate opposing resources, but only after he's feasted on yours first. Note that it doesn't say nonland in that text. Rakdos forces players to sacrifice their own lands, too. Even more risky, while we need to pay a blood price for simply attacking with the demon, Rakdos needs to actually hit another player in order for them to suffer the same. That's a severe double-edged sword to dance around, but fortunately, fellow denizens of the underworld are here to help.

Sire of Insanity
Delina, Wild Mage
Chaos Defiler

Demons are exempt from Rakdos's wrath, meaning a sizeable force of winged wickedness will overlook the drawback. Most demons are pretty disruptive in their own right (Sire of Insanity, Malfegor, Chaos Defiler), already making them threats. Start tearing away an opponent's resources, and suddenly their options to deal with these threats begin running out. Because Rakdos the Defiler needs to damage a player in order to trigger, and we have three opponents to take care of, it's best to find a way around the drawback. Say via Delina, Wild Mage, who puts nonlegendary copies of the demon onto the battlefield already tapped and attacking. No sacrifices needed on our part.

Grave Pact
Wave of Rats

For the non-demonic portions of our deck, we deploy troops and tools that reward us for sacrificing our own permanents. Cards like Dictate of Erebos, Grave Pact, and Butcher of Malakir ensure any creature of ours that dies takes opposing bodies down with it. Other creatures like Venomcrawler and Taborax, Hope's Demise grow more powerful the more creatures drop. Blood Artist and The Meathook Massacre start adjusting life totals in response to Rakdos's influence. And we run many creatures that simply come back from dead (Wave of Rats, Skyclave Shade, Tenacious Underdog), shrugging at all the onslaught.

Body Count
Midnight Reaper
Songs of the Damned

If a ton of cards are going to be hitting the graveyard anyway, we might as well profit. Sacrifice synergies abound with cards like Bag of Devouring, Mayhem Devil, and Juri, Master of the Revue. Body Count, Midnight Reaper, and Grim Haruspex reward us with cards for fallen friends. Songs of the Damned, Pitiless Plunderer, and Revel in Riches with do the same with mana, with the latter providing another win condition with enough destruction beforehand. Other cards like Prowling Geistcatcher, Garna, the Bloodflame, and Thrilling Encore can be used to rescue creatures of ours facing a untimely end. But hey, even if everything dies, we're still packing a Rise of the Dark Realms to deploy in the late game. Our stuff may be dying, but so is everyone else's, too.

Chaos Wand by Karl Christensen

No matter what form of chaos you choose, I hope it makes for an enjoyable night at the Commander table. Whether your opponents see the ensuing pandemonium as a refreshing change of pace or nuisance is yet to be seen. But one thing's for sure: When it's chaotic, it's bound to be memorable.

Thanks for reading, and may fate reward your recklessness

-Matt Lotti-


Limited time 30% buy trade in bonus buylist